Saudi forum reveals smart technologies used to enhance pilgrims’ Hajj experience

Interior Minister Prince Abdul Aziz bin Saud bin Naif meets with Hajj security officers in Makkah on Monday. (SPA)
Updated 06 August 2019
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Saudi forum reveals smart technologies used to enhance pilgrims’ Hajj experience

  • One technology being operated by the Ministry of Health during this season’s Hajj was a robot that could remotely provide medical consultations and checks
  • Plans are in the pipeline to recycle pilgrims’ waste, especially plastics, into useful materials

MAKKAH: Smart technologies being used and developed in the Kingdom to improve services for Hajj pilgrims were revealed at a forum held in the holy city of Makkah.

Saudi Interior Minister Prince Abdul Aziz bin Saud bin Naif inaugurated the “Advanced Technology Utilization on Hajj – Smart Hajj” gathering on Sunday at Umm Al-Qura University’s King Abdul Aziz Historical Hall.

Among items discussed were latest advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and their applications to health, security, entertainment, traffic and other fields in order to enhance the whole Hajj experience for worshippers.

The minister was accompanied at the forum by head of the Presidency of State Security Abdul Aziz bin Mohammed Al-Howairini, Minister of Hajj and Umrah Dr. Mohammed Saleh bin Taher Benten and president of the General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques Dr. Abdulrahman Al-Sudais.

Prince Abdul Aziz also toured an exhibition held on the sidelines of the event.   

The forum was organized by the Ministry of Interior’s general department of medical services in collaboration with the ministries responsible for public and state security, Hajj, and health, the National Center for Security Operations (911), the General Directorate of Passports, the National Health Information Center, the Saudi Food and Drug Authority, Umm Al-Qura University, the Saudi Red Crescent Authority and the Holy Makkah Municipality.

“Despite the fact that Makkah will have received some 1.2 million Hajj pilgrims by the first day of the Dhu Al-Hijjah, the daily life of the 1.6 million residents of the holy city went smoothly and unaffectedly,” Benten said in his speech to delegates.

“Today, we have more than 1.5 million pilgrims in Makkah and around 300,000 others in Madinah. Even so, the city has not been disordered and residents have not noticed the big number of visitors that have entered the city.

“Everything is going smoothly, thanks to the efforts being exerted by the Saudi government to make the pilgrims perform their rituals in ease and comfort,” added Benten.

The minister noted that all Hajj visas had been issued electronically, meaning most pilgrims had not needed to visit the Saudi Embassy.

He said his ministry had details on 60 million Muslims who had earlier performed Hajj. “We use this information to better help them through knowing what places they would like to visit and what their desires are. We now have a good data infrastructure which can help us greatly to introduce even better services to pilgrims in the future.”

And the Hajj experience has been hailed by pilgrims. Feedback from last year’s visitors showed 86 percent to be satisfied with the services provided to them, said Benten, who also spoke about some of the latest technologies being used.

“All pilgrim buses are equipped with tracking devices, so we know who the driver is and how much time is needed to transport pilgrims from one point to another. We also know when a bus has stopped due to a technical problem.”

Technology had also helped to monitor accommodation units. “And we have information about all the companies that provide pilgrims with meals and who the workers in those companies are.”

Benten pointed out that plans were in the pipeline to recycle pilgrims’ waste, especially plastics, into useful materials, and develop archeological sites in Makkah and Madinah to improve the Hajj experience.  

Assistant professor of AI at Umm Al-Qura University, Tahani Al-Subait, told Arab News that based on the data gathered to date new smart apps were being developed to serve pilgrims.

“We can create applications in all fields, like health, security, entertainment, traffic, movement of people, etc. AI can be utilized in everything you can imagine. I can’t imagine there is a field where AI cannot be used,” she said.

One technology being operated by the Ministry of Health during this season’s Hajj was a robot that could remotely provide medical consultations and checks.

“A physician in Riyadh, for instance, can provide medical assistance through a robot in the holy sites. The physician can monitor the robot and make it take the patient’s temperature and check their pulse with a stethoscope. The doctor can also give the robot an order to find a specific patient at a specific ward in a hospital in order to examine them,” Al-Subait added.


Clean sweep: Marine waste targeted in Red Sea tourism program

The program for eliminating marine debris will play an important material and moral role with the support of the residents of areas surrounding the seafront. (SPA)
Updated 22 September 2019

Clean sweep: Marine waste targeted in Red Sea tourism program

  • Debris major cause of death for marine life
  • Disintegration of plastic waste threaten human food resources

JEDDAH: A beach cleanup program targeting marine waste has been launched by the Red Sea Development Co. (TRSDC), the Saudi Press Agency reported.
The firm, which is behind the development of a luxury seafront tourism destination in Saudi Arabia, is already developing a range of environment-friendly policies such as zero-waste-to-landfill, zero-discharge-to-the-sea, zero-single-use plastics, and achieving 100 percent carbon neutrality. On Saturday it launched the Marine Debris Beach Clean Up Program as part of the Red Sea Project. “Eliminating marine debris is receiving increasing attention from the media that it has become a global cause, urging us to participate in protecting our virgin environment for which our seafront is known,” said TRSDC CEO John Pagano.
“The program for eliminating marine debris will play an important material and moral role with the support of the residents of areas surrounding the seafront. It will also shed light on the importance of reducing the use of nonrecyclable plastics, in addition to encouraging the disposing of these substances in a safe and sustainable manner.”
The TRSDC will continue to explore ways for recycled materials to be a source of employment opportunities for the area’s residents, he added. 
TRSDC is an official partner of the United Nations’ initiative to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the cleanup program will initially support two SDGs: Life Below Water and Life on Land. It will expand to support other SDGs, including Responsible Consumption and Production, Sustainable Cities and Communities, Decent Work and the Growth of the Economy, Ending Poverty, and Quality Education.

HIGHLIGHTS

• TRSDC is an official partner of the United Nations’ initiative to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the cleanup program will initially support two SDGs: Life Below Water and Life on Land.

• It will expand to support other SDGs, including Responsible Consumption and Production, Sustainable Cities and Communities, Decent Work and the Growth of the Economy, Ending Poverty, and Quality Education.

• Institutions or individuals wishing to take part in the beach cleanup program can find more details here: www.act4sdgs.org/partner/TheRedSeaProject

Dr. Rusty Brainard, chief environment officer at TRSDC, said: “Marine debris causes significant damage to the environment and is a major cause of death for many marine organism species, which may ingest these substances. Moreover, the disintegration of plastic waste into small pieces that penetrate into the food web base may also threaten human food resources. Our program for eliminating marine litter is a long-term project that includes ongoing monitoring of environmental health, as well as periodic intervention to clean up any waste in the Red Sea Project.”
TRSDC has teamed up with leading academic institutions in the Kingdom, such as King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) and the University of Tabuk, on a number of educational initiatives, added Brainard.
The partnership between TRSDC and KAUST has led to an international competition — “Brains for Brine” — that encourages academics, scientists, engineers and the water industry to find solutions for managing the disposal of brine, which is a waste product of water desalination, in a sustainable and commercially viable way.
KAUST has also helped TRSDC with marine spatial planning for the Red Sea Project.
As part of the planning process, major environmental studies were carried out to ensure that the area’s sensitive ecology was protected both during and after completion of the development.
The final master plan, which preserves around 75 percent of the destination’s islands for conservation and designates nine islands as sites of significant ecological value, required several redesigns to avoid potential disruption to endangered species native to the area.
Institutions or individuals wishing to take part in the beach clean-up program can find more details here: www.act4sdgs.org/partner/TheRedSeaProject